Kashmir is back in the news. While political differences between the NC and PDP continued, movement of additional paramilitary forces compelled them to join hands, as they expected an announcement detrimental to their interests. This movement was in addition to troops already deployed for the Amarnath Yatra. To add to the confusion, the state directed tourists and yatris to cut short their stay and return home. Most did so.
Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were placed under house arrest and restrictions on assembly of individuals imposed across the state. The induction of security forces was completed, and major cities sealed. The expected announcement was on the cards.
The NC, PDP and other political parties believed that the government was likely to either remove Articles 35A and 370 or trifurcate the state and hence to curb any unrest, had acted accordingly. Mehbooba Mufti, presently discarded by the valley, was asking people to be ready to sacrifice their lives to preserve these two articles. Kashmir’s parties were fighting to regain relevance.
In desperation Farooq and Omar Abdullah rushed to meet the PM to convey their fears. There were inputs that locals had begun stocking provisions fearing unrest and prolonged curfews. Reports gave multiple reasons for the troop surge, while none were certain of what to expect.
There were also inputs that police authorities were collating data on mosques within the valley. While it added to speculation, the police statement read it was ‘a part of normal policing.’ For any major decision to be announced by the government, the internal environment had to be conducive from the security angle. This was ensured by coordinated action of multiple agencies.
In the valley, investigations by the NIA and ED resulted in isolating the Hurriyat and curbing availability of funds for sponsoring violence. Some Hurriyat members were calling for talks, which the government ignored as it believed they no longer represented the masses. Investigations had pushed them on the defensive. Simultaneously, strong security actions against terrorists and over ground workers brought the valley into a situation of near normalcy. The environment for the announcement had been created.
Recent released data proves this fact. Upto June this year, 121 militants were eliminated, of which only 21 were from Pakistan. There have been no calls for bandhs by the Hurriyat from April onwards. Civilian protests and stone pelting witnessed a spike in May but were low during the balance of the first half of the year. A total of 76 youth joined militant ranks this year, almost all from South Kashmir areas of Pulwama, Shopian, Anantnag and Kulgam. Thus, only parts of South Kashmir remained areas of concern. In desperation Pakistan’s ISI issued a message to its militant cadre in the valley to lie low.
Post Balakote there has been a change in Pakistan’s approach. Reinforced deployment along the LoC, strong retaliation to punish Pakistani posts, employing long range artillery in case of ceasefire violations or infiltration attempts, added to pressure on Pakistan. After a gap of five months, after the visit of Imran Khan to the US and Donald Trump’s comments on mediation, Pakistan has attempted infiltration and reopened terrorist camps close to the LoC.
On the eve of Kargil Diwas, the army chief warned Pakistan against attempting any misadventures. Pakistan had realised that India is determined to act with force and vengeance in case it crosses limits of Indian tolerance. It remains aware of its shortcomings including aircraft fuel and ammunition stocks and that it cannot hide realities of Indian strikes from its populace every time.
In retaliation to Pakistani firing on Indian villages last week, India targeted populated areas in Neelam Valley of POK. Videos on social media displayed damage from firing and protests by locals questioning their government and army for ignoring their suffering. Pakistan, realizing that it is on the receiving end, began spreading lies on Indian use of banned ammunition, cluster bombs.
Post Pakistan’s National Security Council Meeting on Sunday, Imran appealed to the UN and OIC to curb Indian military actions and restrict it from undertaking any changes to the status of J and K, which it was also expecting. Imran also announced ‘continued diplomatic, moral and political support to the Kashmiri struggle for the right of self-determination.’ He appealed to Trump to mediate between the two countries. India claimed Pakistan’s comments to be full of ‘lies, deceit and deception’. The government realised that the time to act had come and could not be delayed.
Pakistan started linking Afghanistan to Kashmir hoping for international intervention. Its foreign minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi stated in a press conference on 30 July, “the situation in Afghanistan cannot be viewed in isolation with the situation on our eastern border.” It was, in effect, threatening the US that Pakistani support to Afghanistan is conditional to their support on Indo-Pak dialogue.
This movement of additional forces and enhanced security measures in Kashmir had shaken political parties and Pakistan alike. The announcement of the government on revoking Article 370 and bifurcating the state into two Union Territories caused confusion within valley-based political parties and Pakistan. Some announcement was expected, not what was announced nor the way it was done and the speed of its enactment.
Reactions would flow with passage of time, once its ramifications have been comprehended and restrictions lifted. There may be some agitation against the announcement, for which the government is prepared.
In one stroke the government removed all barriers which existed in amalgamating J and K into India. It removed the concept of a state within a state. Article 370 and removing statehood made Article 35A redundant. Separating Ladakh has changed the structure of the state. Keeping J and K as one entity ensured that internationally there would be no ramifications. The guessing game on possible government announcement has ended. As Ram Madhav had stated a few days ago, “Modi government would take necessary steps for the benefit of the State at an appropriate time.” The government has finally done so.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army